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T’boli weavers in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato traditionally weave a sacred cloth called the t’nalak, woven from abaca fibers. They work on a design perceived through their dreams, therefore acquiring their title Dreamweavers.

Weaving – the act of making cloth by interlacing strands or strips of any material vertically and horizontally on a loom – is one of the many forms of art in the Philippines. It has its own specificity. It is a discipline, a study, a language. For instance, in South Cotabato, the weavers must perform sacred rituals, before, during, and after the weaving process. It is believed that the weavers must remain virtuous and chaste. Before working, she must be free of hate and anger toward other people. These are just some of the strict conditions before one can start weaving.

Art is best to be viewed in a semiotic approach. An advantage of this approach is that it makes the observer of the artwork understand more the meaning behind it. In the case of the T’bolis, it is their t’nalak that symbolizes the tribe’s deep and profound feelings towards their culture that has fostered their creations. The cloth is woven intricately and meticulously. Furthermore, the t’nalak is used with great respect.

One does not find a single unilateral thread of meaning in art but a rich polyphonic text. Every artwork has a horizon of meanings. In the olden days, t’nalak is used with much respect that it is only used in special occasions, mostly weddings and not to be cut into pieces and stepped upon. T’bolis treat it as if it has a life of its own. To others, t’nalak is just a piece of cloth that can be used in making custom made dresses, bags, ornaments, and shoes and slippers.

Art as human construct. The dreamweavers communicate with their gods through their dreams. Through their dreams, they are given a particular design to put into work and make it concrete and into reality. It is up to them to bring about the design for the...
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